Mayor Susan Golding warns San Diego about El Nino

Big muddy

— Last week, Mayor Susan Golding, who spends much of her time out of the city running for U.S. Senate these days, briefly returned to her old stomping grounds for an elaborately staged media event to warn the locals about the forthcoming flooding dangers presented by El Nino. Golding assured the natives she was doing everything possible to prepare for the worst. One thing not mentioned, however, was a letter to her, dated July 7, from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which warns that because of "numerous recent floodplain management violations," the city faces severe sanctions, including a hefty surcharge "for all flood insurance policies within your community for at least one year." The feds cite two big disasters waiting to happen: Mission Valley and the Tijuana River Valley. Along the Tijuana River, the feds say the new international sewage treatment plant "increases the base flood level." The letter adds that "non-permitted construction continues to pose a serious flood threat to the homes along Dairy Mart Road." In Mission Valley, FEMA claims the city ignored federal regulations by allowing construction to begin on the trolley extension, expansion of the Fashion Valley shopping mall, and redevelopment of the Stardust golf course without proper federal clearance. The letter adds that a recent engineering study of the San Diego River "has raised concerns about possible additional construction violations" in the floodplain, which turns into a dangerous quagmire in rainy years. "Can city officials explain the four to five feet increase in the base flood elevation of the San Diego River floodway from the time of the original FEMA study in 1983 to the present day Boyle Engineering study?" the letter asks Golding. "Were there other construction projects placed in this floodway since the time of the 1983 study? If so, did the City fail to apply for [the proper permits]?" The letter lists a series of structures the feds contend may have been built illegally and asks for "clarification" of whether two new Fashion Valley parking garages were built in the floodway. The feds also demand that because of the violations, the city "create and implement a set of floodplain management enforcement procedures."

Cops and robbers

Hottest rumor making the rounds at city hall these days: a male middle-management type has been placed on indefinite leave, pending an investigation by the district attorney of "unacceptable sexual advances" to employees, one of them alleged to be a minor. ... Lee Hill, identified as an ex-San Diego County deputy district attorney, has surfaced in Boulder, Colorado, where he's running for city council on a platform that relies heavily on bashing the handling of the JonBenet Ramsey case by police and prosecutors there. "This is about more than just the Ramsey case," Hill said at a news conference last week. "I know how criminal justice systems can work, and I recognize when they aren't working." ... The former chief financial officer of a New Hampshire high-tech outfit was indicted for securities fraud last week. Jan R. Kirk, 55, accused of setting up a sham $12 million private placement of Ferrofluidics Corporation's common stock to fraudulently inflate the company's earnings for 1992, has reportedly moved to Del Mar.

Weird and weirder

In the amateur astronomy business, the guide of choice is Burnham's Celestial Handbook: An Observer's Guide to the Universe Beyond the Solar System. Now comes word that its author, Robert Burnham, Jr., died here in obscurity four years ago, a bearded, disheveled outcast selling his paintings of cats on a Balboa Park bench outside the Ruben H. Fleet Space Theatre. Once an astronomer at Arizona's Lowell Observatory, Burnham researched and published his book in the 1970s. Always regarded as a bit eccentric, he vanished from his Phoenix home in 1986, and relatives lost track of him until a writer for the Phoenix New Times recently discovered Burnham died at Mercy Hospital in March 1993.

Contributor: Matt Potter

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